Recently I was bored enough to watch season 1 & 2 of The Last Ship. It is television for the bored and plays on pop culture’s boner for an apocalypse theme. Thankfully there are no zombies, instead there are Muslims, Latin Americans, Russians and the British. The series plays up American patriotism to an uncomfortable level at times. What else would you expect with a chauvinist Republican like Adam Baldwin starring in it. Don’t get me wrong, his portrayal of Jayne in Firefly is fantastic, but I suspect he wasn’t acting in it anyway. The Last Ship follows the Crew of the Nathan James as the sole survivors of the American Navy who have been given the task of creating a cure for a plague that has wiped out most of the human population.
Along the way, the crew has to deal with laughable clichés and some pretty bad stereotypes. The first of these is when the crew needs to get to Guantanamo bay to refuel. There they meet the last survivors of the prison, most of which are prisoners who were set free because it’s the end of the world, politics and religion are of no significance anymore right? Very wrong, these prisoners are apparently fundamentalist Muslims or are just really angry they were detained for a decade without a trial.
As the uncompromising evil middle-eastern Muslims they are, they want to kill all Americans. They want to outlast the plague by keeping all the food in the prison for themselves. The captain has his ship fire on the building with a vague target and before this happens he states “We don’t negotiate with terrorists”. The Middle-East has been the demon du jeu for a long time now and the only thing missing from this episode was the prisoners shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ and ‘Infidel’. Somehow I began to think that this had a few layers. Let’s first of all analyze the situation. The terrorists are imprisoned without trial. This internment could be the root cause for them to attack the prison guards when they are set free, but nobody tries to understand that. Instead they are the stereotypical towel heads that will not compromise. Ironic that the American reaction is not to compromise either.
The prisoners are 2-dimensional characters that have the sole purpose to create a plot line. It isn’t even known if they are religious extremists, but it is assumed. Of course they were only given a single episode to delve into this and it wasn’t enough time to get an understanding for what their motives and desires were in the end. I was left with a feeling of Déjà vu because this isn’t the first time that Muslims have been portrayed as 2-dimensional characters. From Lawrence of Arabia to 24, people from the Middle-East are often treated as nothing more than props that do not feel or hold the same ‘solid’ reasoning as ‘us’. Maybe that is why they make for such great villains.
After all that you’d think they would move onto something that is a bit more out of the safe-zone for television villains. Nope, you would be wrong because now the Russians have to be involved because we need a villain and who is America’s longest villain since whenever? Mother Russia, that’s who. Admiral Ruskov is the commander of the only remaining Russian kirov-class battlecruiser. Despite writing the book on modern naval warfare, he doesn’t seem to display any knowledge of it. He is suppose to come across as being some kind of cunning foe that outclasses the Americans in every possible way and he looks like Putin.
What we get instead is all brawn and no brain. Sure, he has twice the men and nuclear weapons, but for someone who is supposedly the father of all modern naval warfare, he is really stupid. To make the point of his strength he executes one of his own officers to prove he can make the necessary sacrifices to win at any cost. It doesn’t take too many brain cells to realize that killing naval personnel for the sake of sending a message is a terrible idea when you are in the middle of a plague and most of your men are on the verge of mutiny. I was waiting for his other officers to step it at any time to take over. His character has far more development than the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, but he is still very 2-dimensional. His goal is to create a cure for the plague and use it to be powerful. It was like Phase 1-cure, phase 2 – ??, phase 3 – profit. None of what he says makes sense and neither does his plan when we get into the second season because a substantial percentage of the human population has immunity anyway.
The last big villain was the British, America’s oldest enemy. At this point the scriptwriters looked like they were starting to scrape the end of the barrel for anything that could progress the plot. These Brits are immune and are trying to destroy the manufacturing of the cure because they are immune fundamentalist who see non-immunes as being inferior.
They rock a sweet submarine that becomes the protagonist to ‘The Last Ship’ and through the use of propaganda and misinformation, they turn everyone against the ship and incite a weird form of sectarianism against people who aren’t immune. They conquered Europe and now want to take their message to America. They come across as evil foreign influence set to tear America apart. Also, there is one high ranking member of the immunes who is suppose to be Irish, though his accent sounds like a Spanish person trying to imitate Borat. Seriously American Television, if you want someone with an Irish accent, cast someone Irish. Even the leprechaun in the 1993 film of the same name was English actor Warwick Davis.
At first I thought I was reading too much into this. It is a show that takes itself too seriously maybe, but it isn’t propaganda though right? It dawned on me that it actually is propaganda. It is trying to create an image of the Navy as honourable people trying to bring back freedom, cures and the American way, all while fighting off Russian battlecruisers, Nicaraguan drug lords, supposed fundamentalist Muslims and Europeans obsessed with being immune. The only TV series I can best compare this to is Band of Brothers which looks at the war from the perspective of the people fighting in it. For them it is a duty that they don’t enjoy, but they understand it is important. The only time in the 10 episode series we see a justification for their actions is when they reach a concentration camp. It dealt with the human factor of fighting and whenever someone is injured or killed, there is a deep sense of loss because although they are an entire company of men, they all feel like people with lives and people back home thinking about them. The Last Ship tries to capture this feeling but it comes off as a stale attempt to create an emotional attachment that was never there in the first place.
For all intents and purposes, it is a very long recruitment video for the Navy. I don’t take it lightly to accuse films or Television shows of being propaganda but I have seen this kind of propaganda before in Chinese television. While in America there is a core element of action and military films to focus on the Nazis and Russians, the Chinese focus on the Japanese during the Second World War. The Japanese army had murdered and tortured so many Chinese that it is a wonder that most of us in the West have never heard of it. Despite the war ending over 60 years ago, the Japanese are still a staple in the TV diet of China.
The Japanese in these dramas are idiot soldiers who can’t shoot straight, much like Stormstoopers. It is even a wonder that if they are so stupid, how could they have invaded China in the first place? The situations that we see the heroes placed in are hilarious and the defiance of logic is enough to make me want to punch my monitor. There was a joke a friend once told me. He said there was a Japanese historian who came to Beijing and asked the taxi driver to take him to the spot where the most Japanese soldiers had died. The taxi driver drove him to a film studio. Out of the 200 odd dramas that are filmed in China, 70 of them are war dramas which paint the Japanese as being evil.
In the dramas, the Chinese armies are the heroes and they are able to beat all odds to be victorious.What I was left with from watching these Chinese War dramas was a feeling of disgust that Television could be used so blatantly to forward an agenda of nationalism and xenophobia. Before I start to sound like I’m China bashing, at the time I also realized that the same thing happens on American and British television, although it is not as blatantly obvious as the Chinese. With that said, when it came to The Last Ship, it would not surprise me that in the coming third season that Nazis would be somehow involved because I have that much respect for the show. I might be reading too much into a Television series that will be canceled after a third season, or maybe i’m onto something, either way The Last Ship is a free ad for the US Navy.